April 17, 2009

An ancient technique, pruning the espalier trees on my farm

When I first moved to Bedford, I found a perfect location to plant a little orchard of espalier apple trees. Espalier refers to an ancient technique, resulting in trees that grow flat, either against a wall, or along a wire-strung framework. Many kinds of trees respond beautifully to the espalier treatment, but fruit trees, like apple and pear, were some of the earliest examples. During the Middle Ages, entire villages lived behind protective walls, and to save on precious space, orchards were planted and trained right up against the inner face of the ramparts. Due to the extra warmth of the sun radiating off the walls, the growing season was extended, and the fruit more abundant. Because necessary sunlight reaches every piece of fruit that these trees bear, espalier pruning remains standard procedure at commercial orchards in France.

Unfortunately, for the past couple of years, my espalier orchard went untended and became severely overgrown. When Shaun, the new gardener arrived, he took interest in their condition and assured me that he could make them look good again. I think he's done a very fine job.

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